Stafford, Johnson heat up, Lions roast Eagles

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Calvin Johnson hauls in his second TD catch, in the third quarter, despite the efforts of flying Eagle Eric Rowe.

Detroit — A cloud of smoke lingered atop Ford Field in the second half of the Lions’ game on Thanksgiving following a fireworks-heavy halftime performance by local hip-hop star Big Sean.

The smoke clearly didn’t bother the Lions because their offense was simply on fire for most of the game as they dominated the Eagles, 45-14, in front of 64,445 fans at Ford Field.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw five touchdowns and finished with a career-high 137.8 passer rating, an accurate representation of his efficiency as he went 27-of-38 for 337 yards and five touchdowns.

As a Dallas native, Stafford said the Thanksgiving game is always one of his favorites on the Lions schedule because it reminds him of his family tradition of watching the Cowboys each year.

“It’s a blast,” Stafford said of playing on the holiday. “It’s a whole lot more fun when you win. And when you win convincingly like we did today, it makes it extra sweet.”

Stafford helped continue a recent tradition, too, as wide receiver Calvin Johnson feasted on Philadelphia’s secondary. Johnson finished with eight catches for 93 yards and three touchdowns, tying a career high for a game. He now has 11 career touchdowns on the holiday and has scored on seven straight Thanksgivings.

BOX SCORE: Lions 45, Eagles 14

With the win, the Lions (4-7) have now won three straight games this season, and they scored their most points in a game since a 49-35 win over the Panthers on Nov. 20, 2011.

The Lions also won on Turkey Day for the third straight season, a streak that followed a nine consecutive losses on the holiday. The Eagles entered the game 6-0 on Thanksgiving, but instead were the victims of the Lions’ new holiday streak in which they won all three games by at least 17 points.

The Lions defense deserves plenty of credit for quickly giving the ball back to the offense on most drives, limiting the Eagles to just 227 yards in another smothering performance. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah had a career day with 3.5 sacks, giving him a career-high 11.5 for the season to tie him with Houston’s J.J. Watt for the league lead.

Stafford was sensational and his numbers could’ve been even better if not for a few drops on perfect passes.

Meanwhile, the Eagles offense was stagnant for most of the game, in part because they gained just 68 rushing yards. Quarterback Mark Sanchez, who played in place of injured Sam Bradford, was 19-of-27 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, but much of that production came on a late scoring drive with the game already well out of reach.

“It was a tough day at the office,” Sanchez said after a game in which several players took questions about whether or not they gave up.

Lions grades: Golden sparkles before Calvin takes over

The Lions scored on six consecutive possessions stretching from their second drive of the first quarter until late in the third quarter.

After a 1-7 start, the Lions have rediscovered their potential. That it followed the firing of president Tom Lewand general manager Martin Mayhew is merely happenstance, as the players and coach Jim Caldwell continued to point to improved execution for the winning streak.

“I just think the team is coming together,” Ansah said.

The Lions offense actually started with a comedy of errors — a penalty, an off-target throw, a drop and a big loss on a run — forcing them to punt on their first possession. After that, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter called a good game, and Stafford consistently delivered perfect passes.

Stafford’s first touchdown was an 8-yarder to Theo Riddick, who earned the scoring chance after an electric 23-yard gain earlier in the drive. The Eagles answered that score with a 2-yard pass from Sanchez to tight end Brent Celek, making it 7-7 with 14:20 left in the second quarter.

Then, the Lions just kept scoring. Next was a 2-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Golden Tate, who literally walked into the end zone after dodging cornerback Walter Thurmond.

The Lions had to settle for a field goal on their next drive as Matt Prater hit a 48-yarder to improve to 14-of-14 on field goals this season.

On their final drive of the first half, the Johnson show began as he caught a 25-yard touchdown on third-and-17 with 12 seconds left before halftime, giving the Lions a 24-7 lead at the break.

The Lions started with the ball in the third quarter and marched to another touchdown as Johnson caught a 4-yarder on a fade route in single coverage.

Then, Ansah quickly gave the ball back to the Lions offense. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Ansah had a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery at the Philadelphia 23.

Four plays later, Stafford and Johnson connected for a 3-yard touchdown as the Lions took a 38-7 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

The Lions actually had to punt on their next drive, but sure enough, they marched back down the field a possession later. Running back Joique Bell gained 39 yards on a screen and punched in a 1-yard TD on the next play, putting the Lions up 45-7 with 10:42 left in the game.

The Eagles later scored another touchdown, a 24-yard pass to Jordan Matthews, but with 2:56 remaining, it hardly mattered.

“This is not a typical day,” Caldwell said. “Most games in this league are decided by a touchdown or less, and that’s the norm. … But when you do have a day like this, you certainly feel good about it.”